Cherries trucked to processors
One county fruit processor, mindful of finding a supply of cherries to meet the needs of strengthening demand from consumers, has already received three semi-truck shipments of cherries from Washington. Glenn LaCross, owner of Leelanau Fruit Company located just south of Suttons Bay, has made arrangements to bring “millions” of pounds of cherries across the country to be processed in Leelanau County.
“West of the Mississippi fared well, very well. Most of our apples will come from the West, as well as our cherries. So we’ll wear out a lot of tires getting our product to our users,” said LaCross.
The cherry harvest in Leelanau County — and across the state — is turning out to be a small percentage of a normal season. LaCross said a few sweet cherry orchards yielded crops, while tarts are even harder to find.
“It’s kind of orchard-by-orchard. Up by Northport we are finding a few cherries, so our Northport growers will have a few. We won’t know for sure until we get in there,” said LaCross.
Cherries mature first in southern Leelanau County, with the harvest starting in Elmwood Township and getting underway in Leelanau Township a week or even two weeks later. From what LaCross has seen so far, the cherry crop won’t come near meeting market expectations.
“I don’t think that we’ll produce over 250,000 pounds of tarts. On a normal year, it would probably be six million,” said LaCross.
Leelanau Fruit has developed a niche in brine cherries used in ice cream, fruit cocktails, muffins and other products — which makes finding a source for sweet cherries so important to the company.
The loss of the cherry crop in Leelanau, which normally produces more tart and sweet cherries than any other county in the nation, is taking a toll on the local economy. Normally the Suttons Bay plant of Leelanau Fruit would need a workforce of 140 people to handle the cherry harvest.
Presently, the company has only 40 workers on its payroll.
Some growers with few cherries to offer are skipping the commodity market altogether, opting instead to sell crops themselves at farmers markets or at their own farms. They’ll increase their profit by skipping the “middle man,” concedes LaCross.
“I just talked to a grower out on Old Mission who said he had 60,000 pounds of dark cherries. He’d normally take them to a processor, but he has a stand in Traverse City where he plans to sell them. He’ll do well,” LaCross said.
Handsome prices, by historical standards, are being paid to growers who have cherries to sell to processors. Cherry prices have ranged from about 25 cents to 30 cents a pound in recent years. Presently, sweets are bringing 50 cents a pound, while tarts are fetching $1.00 — or more.
“One processor downstate paid $1.50 (for tart cherries) on a very selective basis,” LaCross said.